Thursday June 6 2019
Italy balance progress and the present

The Azzurri have a generation of talented young players, but Jay Cassano observes Roberto Mancini using them judiciously in the service of immediate results.

One of the biggest problems facing the Italian national team today is that there are relatively few players in what we ambiguously refer to as a footballer’s “prime.” That age from about 27 to 31, plus a couple more years if they’re a defender.

The even bigger problem for the Nazionale is that those few players who ought to be at their peak right now have been under-performing. Napoli fans may bemoan Lorenzo Insigne’s inconsistency for their club, but it’s better than the consistently mediocre performances he’s turned in while wearing royal blue. Marco Verratti looks annoyed that he has to actually put in more than three-quarters effort on the pitch. And you have to squint awfully hard to see a Ciro Immobile who was Capocannoniere a season ago. As for Mario Balotelli, nothing else really needs be said beyond Roberto Mancini's own words: “He’s playing at a low level.”

Mancio has come to the realisation that he cannot rely on these supposed difference-makers. Only Verratti, on the basis of sheer talent, seems to be assured of his starting spot in the squad. Since the Nations League, Mancini has increasingly relied on young players like NicolòBarella and Moise Kean, who carried the day in Italy’s first Euro qualifier against Finland. Coming off strong performances for club and country, Kean now looks increasingly like to start against Greece this weekend. And Azzurri fans can and should be excited about other young players ready to make their mark, like Federico Chiesa and NicolòZaniolo.

Like all Coaches today, Mancini faces the pressure of delivering immediate results. Unfortunately, the Italy squad of today is not quite ready to compete with the likes of Spain, England, France, and the Netherlands. The national side is just now emerging from a proper rebuilding.

An optimist not deluded by hope would say that next year’s Euros are the earliest we can expect to see the beginning of a new cycle for Italy. But for now, Mancini needs to strike a balance between giving his promising youngsters the playing time to grow without the burden of responsibility stifling them. And all the while do well enough at the Euros that he can keep his job until the 2022 World Cup.

After all, it doesn’t take too much imagination to guess that Mancini wants a future three-man midfield of Barella, Zaniolo and Brescia starlet Sandro Tonali. That line-up should be enough to make any fan salivate at the prospect of what this team could accomplish in 2022, or even 2026.

One key ingredient that Mancini knows he has to get right is where Federico Bernardeschi fits into his recipe. This week the Azzurri reportedly tested Bernardeschi both as part of a trident attack and as a midfielder behind Chiesa.

After Max Allegri started deploying Bernardeschi in a deeper role to make room for Juve’s attacking players, Mancini has clearly taken notice of the ex-Fiorentina man’s versatility. It’s certainly a huge asset to the squad, but getting the most out of him is also important. Berna has all of the attributes to become a rallying point for this Nazionale’s next cycle: the ability to score, to create and pull the strings, he has a high defensive work rate for an attacking player, and he has a winning mentality instilled by Juventus.

Mancini has hinted at a “more attacking Italy,” which could indicate Bernardeschi in midfield to open up a starting spot for Kean or Zaniolo.

The fact that Mancini has again called up both Leonardo Pavoletti and Fabio Quagliarella is indicative of his wisdom in balancing the desire to play flowing, attacking football and develop his youth against the need to win now. Quagliarella may be this year’s top scorer and beloved by all, but it’s hard to see him playing a key role in next year’s tournament at 37. Pavoletti, for his part, isn’t so much a football player as a machine that accepts crosses as inputs and, by some unknown probabilistic mechanism, occasionally converts them into goals.

Pumping crosses into the box and relying on near-quadragenarians is far from Mancini’s ideal style of play. But if his sparkling youth aren’t up to the task, he’s prepared to do whatever it takes to drag the national team into success. And that’s just what they need right about now.

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Have your say...
not ready to compete with England? Lol
Have you watched them in the past 12 months? Belgium A, Belgium B, Croatia, Tunisia. Did you see those games? Did you see last night against Netherlands?
on the 7th June, 2019 at 8:22pm
The next generation of players is incredibly exciting. The age and experience is important but we must aim to win every game and every tournament - the talent is there. I don't want to hear about how well we'll do in 2022 or 2026. Italy has enough talent - regardless of age - to be competitive in every tournament from here on in. Forza Azzurri!!
on the 7th June, 2019 at 5:07pm
This is the best Italy since 2006. We all should be blessed that Italy finally is on the right track. Just sit back and enjoy and save the wining for a rainy day!



Verratti Barella/Zaniolo

Bernardeschi Chiesa

on the 7th June, 2019 at 10:04am
I'm far more concerned about the quality of the squad, than the age of the players, and on that basis we are in good shape. We appear to have at least two decent players for every position on the pitch. We have a fairly solid defense & a midfield that can boss games. All that needs improving is the service and finishing in the final third from the wide forwards in particular. I'm hoping that Belotti can get back to his best because when he is in form, he is a terrific player.
on the 6th June, 2019 at 11:27pm
...don’t forget through total luck,or mercy of football gods or insider FIFA deals Italy has gotten the easiest qualifying group in 50 years. They should finish well a top of group and undefeated with + 24 in goals.
Wait til WC qualifying comes round. Then see what lesson they've learned and if they’ve progressed.
I agree with Balotelli cut as he’s back to being flakey. Hope he comes back to Serie A. Parma or Brescia, Roma would be great.
This squad just needs to mesh and grow together.
on the 6th June, 2019 at 8:03pm
Di Biagio is the weak link, he has cocked up the last 2 euros with squads more than good enough to win, really wish we had a better manager going into the euros. Cheering on Holland tonight in nations league, anyone but England.
on the 6th June, 2019 at 7:20pm
I am generally pleased with the squad selections. The only changes I would make would be to take out Acerbi, Immobile and Insigne and replace them with Rugani, Di Lorenzo from Empoli and Balotelli. Immobile is beyond bad and Insigne flatters to deceive. Also would have liked to have seen Conti in the squad and also Caldara when fit. Hoping for 2 good performances in next 2 games, both testing matches. Also pleased we have picked a strong squad for under 21, we need to win on home soil.
on the 6th June, 2019 at 7:18pm
There is a core of players who should be approaching their primes you think of the verratti bernardeschi florenzi biraghi immobile jorginho el shaarawy insigne they all sit in the 25-30 age bracket which is suppose to be footballers peak years. These guys should be the key players behind any kind of measurable success not to say the youngsters aren't equally important but for my personal perspective as a fan i have different expectations for certain players.
on the 6th June, 2019 at 6:12pm
People always say Insigne and Verratti have failed all these chances but they've never been set up to succeed.
2014- Verratti, young and played fine; Insigne, young with 1 sub app. Team failed.
2016- Verratti, injured; Insgine, 3 sub apps, 1 post, good vs Spain, scored in PKs vs Germany.
2018Qs- Verratti, average but hampered by Ventura's tactics; Insigne, scored 1 goal, average but also hampered by Ventura. Didn't even play vs Sweden.
Under Mancio both have improved, especially Verratti.
on the 6th June, 2019 at 4:56pm
It depends on position but prime is more like 25-29. And pure physical prime like 22-27.
Anyways, this new generation is clearly better than the last.
on the 6th June, 2019 at 4:49pm
We have a weak squad and that has been the case since 2010. We failed to renew the cycle and I have heard of many potential future stars who never delivered. Giovinco, Balotelli, Ogbonna, De sciglio, Aquilani, Parolo, Insigne, Darmian, Zaza, Florenzi, Immobile, El shaarawy... All of these were supposed to become world class players when they were 19. turned out all of them are average at best.

I will not be convinced that the future is bright until I see the youngsters perform regularly.
on the 6th June, 2019 at 2:59pm
Conti rugani/romagnoli chiellini/mancini Biraghi/spinazzola barella sandro pellegrini/zaniolo berardi/politano belotti/kean chiesa/giovinco. In stand bonucci parollo veratti insigne & immobile. It will be a brave and bold XI which will stings the so called top names that downed italy to earn their bred by SWEAT.
on the 6th June, 2019 at 1:56pm
Italy Mustn't forget for a second that they missed last WC. That shame must be beared red in the heart of italian players.. So my urge is that the selection must be most affirmed selected right from now that which soldiers will be march on to fight the GLORY back... Forget all this mid-term solution like jorginho and balotelli. Prepare this young troop from now by keeping them together this Four years to turn them into glue like adhesives; neymar being built just this way!. Donna/sirigu darmian/
on the 6th June, 2019 at 1:26pm
@JUVE FAN. Fully agree with your comments. To say we are lagging behind Spain, Holland and England leads me to believe that Jay Cassano has a distinct lack in football knowledge and begs the question; why is he writing football articles for a football website?
on the 6th June, 2019 at 12:10pm
Would like to see Bonucci dropped for Romagnoli he's a better defender and 8 years younger, and eventually Chellini - Caldara (when fit), Mancini, Bastoni all could be given a shot.

Realistic lineup moving forwards post under 21 championship:


Spinazzola Romagnoli Chellini Emerson

Veratti Jorginho Barella

Bernardeschi Kean Chiesa

KEY SUBS: Bonucci, Calabria, Tonali, Pellegrini, Zaniolo, Balotelli
on the 6th June, 2019 at 11:18am
France won the WC with 8 players under the so called peak age 27-31. The key isn't the age, it's building a team, which means capping players from 18-21 who then have multiple attempts to win a trophy - worst case scenario by the time they reach their peak - just as we did in 2006.

Some players have it and other don't, we've all always known that Immobile and Insigne don't cut it, and with so many opportunities i.e. Italy's 2014 WC, Euro 2016 and Qualifying campaign for WC18 - they never will.
on the 6th June, 2019 at 10:57am
"Unfortunately, the Italy squad of today is not quite ready to compete with the likes of Spain, England, France, and the Netherlands"

Remove Spain, England, Holland.

Spain? They are suffering from a weak generation of players and their results have been shocking. England? They had a straightforward route to WC Semi and lost all their major games. Holland? We dominated them in our last friendly (with them playing their best 11).

Only France are above us - no nation stands out apart from them.
on the 6th June, 2019 at 10:48am

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